The Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Graduated College
Debbie Millman was one of the first speakers at CreativeMornings/NewYork back in 2011, but that’s not why her talk is a classic. Her tactical and practical advice for soon to be design grads is applicable to anyone in any walk of life, and is one of my favorite talks of all time.
Here is an extended recap of the talk, and some of the big takeaways.
1. Design talent is equivalent to operational excellence.
Operational excellence is what it takes to operate a business or service. It’s only a point of entry. When applying for a job, you’re expected to know how to design, so you need the ability to talk about your work in a way that allows the viewer to understand what your true message is.
2. Design is not about design.
“Design is about a whole lot of other things. In today’s world, we must have an understanding of anthropology, psychology, economics—You need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything. Everything else fuels the way we design and the smarter we are about that, the more informed our work will be and ultimately the more powerful it will be.”
3. There are two things that are not really about what we think they’re about: money and sex.
Money is not about money and sex is not about sex. If someone really wants something, they’ll find a way to pay for it. There are any number of ways that people will let themselves get something that they don’t want.
If someone tells you that they dont want something you’re selling because they can’t afford it, it’s just a nice way of them saying they don’t want it.
4. Ideas are easy. Strategy is much harder.
Coming up with a unique point of difference for a product or an idea is incredibly, incredibly difficult. Strategy is choosing to perform activities differently or to perform distinctly different activities than rivals.
There are really only two ways into doing strategic design. The first is to do activities differently (Starbucks) or by doing activities distinctly differently than rivals (Apple). Both of these lenses provide the opportunity to create a game changer.
If we have a strategic reason for being, then chances are, we are going to be able to create something that has a lot more meaning.
You need to know, in developing your strategy, whether it be a strategy for yourself, as a designer, as a practitioner, as a marketer, as a consultant, or for a product, you need to know what you are doing and why. What is your mission as a designer? Why have you chosen design? How are you doing to make a difference with your work? Otherwise, how are you different from anyone else.
Know what your mission is and be able to communicate it in a way that people will fundamentally understand. You need to believe it so thoroughly that it becomes part of your DNA.
5. Know what you are talking about.
It’s really really important to tell the truth.There’s nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know something. it gives others the opportunity to share what they know, building a relationship with you.
Even when you’re lying, chances are, people know you’re lying. What little trust there was becomes completely obliterated.
6. common vocabulary does not equate to common behavior.
Ex. “I love you.” “But not they way you love them.”
In any project, meaning and interpretation could be totally different. The best way to capture that is through creating a design brief. It’s worth spending an entire day on.
7. Relentlessly prepare.
It’s really important that designers prepare themselves for every response that could occur when presenting their work. “Designers need to ask themselves what are the possible reactions that can happen and what will I do when they happen. If you are able to visualize every scenario, anticipate the unanticipated, ultimately you will feel more powerful when you are presenting.”
8. Be aware of artificial harmony.
Humans are reluctant to confront each other about things. When you’re showing work and someone doesn’t like it, it’s likely they will not tell you.
“Whenever you get that vibe that someone’s not madly in love with your work, it’s because they’re not madly in love with your work.” Don’t let the doubt grow. If you sense that, act on it.
9. Seek out criticism.
“I often talk to my students about three ways of knowing things. One, we know what we know. I know I’m a woman, I know that I’m reahcing an age milestone and a yearly milestone, I know I’m a scorpio, I know what I don’t know. I’m not a mathematician. A surgeon. But I don’t know what I don’t know. The only way to know that is by asking people—like spinach on your teeth.”
Ask people what is the one thing you would take out of their portfolio. Only have work in your portfolio that you love. It’s better to have less things in your portfolio and have them all be things that you’re proud of, that you can defend, than something that is filleror it will dilute the overall impact of your work.
If you’re not making enough mistakes, you’re not taking enough risks. This is the only time in your life where it’s absolutely acceptable to fall on your face. Fall on your face, fall on your face a lot.
10. You need to know how to present.
You need to know how to talk about your work, even if you’re afraid. If we approach our work, knowing how to present, it will give us tools to help us circumvent the nerves or the fear.
Presenting is a science and an art, and it must be something that you learn how to do. It is the single most important skill to learn in being a designer. Work as hard as you can and work harder than everybody else.
“A lot of people ask me how I’ve gotten to this place in my 50 year old life. I’m not that good, I’m just really unwilling to give up. I’ve gotten to a place where i realize that I want to have a good life that I feel proud of and the only way to do that is to keep trying, keep persisting.” Do not compromise.
“I think busy is a four letter word. Busy is a way of organizing your priorities and we use it as a reason to not do something that we really don’t want to do. If you really want to do something, you’ll find the time to do it.”
228 Notes/ Hide
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